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  --  A Life in Three Chapters   Table of Contents     HARRIET TUBMAN

Brown, Hallie Q.
Homespun heroines

- HARRIET TUBMAN -- Harriet--The Moses -- 1821--March 10, 1913

Harriet--The Moses
1821--March 10, 1913

When America writes her history without hatred and prejudice she will place high in the galaxy of fame the name of a woman as remarkable as the French heroine, Joan of Arc, a woman who had not even the poor advantages of the peasant maid of Domremy, but was born under the galling yoke of slavery with a long score of cruelty.

Her service to her race and country are without parallel in like achievements by any member of her sex in the history of the world.

Harriet Tubman may be justly styled a Homespun Heroine.

This historic character is in a class to herself. She had the skill and boldness of a commander,--the courage and strategy of a general. A picturesque figure standing boldly against the commonplace, dark background of a generation in which her lot was cast.

Stranger than fiction have been her escapes and exploits in slavery.

She was called "Moses" because of her success in guiding her brethren out of their land of Egypt.

She was also called "General Moses"--an Amazon in strength and endurance and is described as a woman of no pretensions, a most ordinary specimen of humanity. Yet in point of courage, shrewdness and disinterested exertions to rescue her fellow men she had no equal.

Harriet appears to have been a strange compound of practical shrewdness and of a visionary enthusiasm. She

believed in dreams and omens warning and instructing her in her enterprises. At times she would break forth into wild and strange rhapsodies which to her ignorant hearers seemed the work of inspiration, to others a power of insight beyond what is called natural, to excel in the difficult work she had chosen for herself. The first twenty-five years of her life were spent as a slave on a Maryland plantation.

She worked beside oxen and horses as a field hand and developed a strong muscular body and at the same time an unconquerable spiritual force which was regarded as dogged stubbornness in not submitting to the lords of the lash. One fair morning Harriet left for freedom. She managed it so easily that she began planning to help others. She worked in Northern hotels till she saved enough money to pay the expenses of a trip to her old neighborhood.

The first to be rescued were her own family at different times. Her three brothers left under her direction hiding for days in their father's corn crib, among the ears of corn. The father was in the secret but they feared to trust their mother's excitable nature lest it betray them.

The boys could see their mother come out shading her eyes and gazing down the long road, in the fond hope of seeing her boys coming home to spend the Christmas with her.

The father pushed food through the chinks but took care not to set eyes on them, that he might be able to swear when the time came for questions. At night they started looking through the cabin window at the poor old mother crooning over the fire, pipe in her mouth, rocking her head on her hand mourning that the boys did not come.

The father went some miles blindfolded, the sons holding his arms and when they took leave of each other he could still say he had not seen them.

Notwithstanding all this precaution the old man came under suspicion and was to be tried for helping fugitives slaves. At this juncture Harriet came to settle the matter

by "removing the case to a higher court." In an old broken down sort of a wagon she quietly drove off with her parents and seemed to have met no trouble in reaching free soil.

For two decades, prior to the Civil war, Harriet made many journeys to the South and brought four hundred slaves to the North and Canada not one of whom was caught nor did she ever fall into the hands of the enemy, though at one time twelve thousand dollars reward was offered for this mysterious "black ghost." Along the route this modern Joan of Arc marched without an army or panoply of war; with neither shield nor spear, but many lurking foes and hidden perils to be met and overcome.

Swamps and tangled brush their bed at night, preferring the company of the wild things of the forest, even venomous reptiles to the infuriated slave catcher. Foot sore and weary with her scared and hunted followers, she forged ahead with an unconquerable spirit truly heroic in her sacrifice for her fellow creatures.

Harriet was employed in the Underground Rail Road service. William Still in his records regards her as a highly trusted ally. On this work in the late forties she would be absent for weeks at a time dropping completely out of sight, running daily risks making preparations for herself and passengers, but she seemed wholly devoid of personal fear, and seemed proof against all adversaries. While she manifested such utter personal indifference she was most watchful with regard to those she was piloting.

Half of her time she appeared to be asleep and would actually sit down by the roadside and go fast asleep, yet she would not suffer one of her party to whimper once about "givin' out and goin' back," however wearied they might be from hard travel. She had one short, pointed law of her own which implied death to any one who talked of 'givin' out or goin' back." Her followers had full faith in her and would back up any words she uttered. So, when she said to them that a live runaway could do a great

harm by going back, but a dead one could tell no secrets, she was sure to have strict obedience.

She was the friend and counselor of John Brown, who spoke of her with enthusiasm as the "Most of a man," he had ever met with. In his hut at North Elba in the Adirondacks--"Today a worthier goal or pilgrimage than any medieval shrine"--they drew plans for his attack on Harpers Ferry.

During the Civil War, Harriet served with distinction as a scout for Governor Andrews with his Massachusetts troops and guided Colonel Montgomery of the Union forces in his memorable expedition in South Carolina. She had many narrow escapes but succeeded in out-witting the Confederates and avoided capture as well.

She was introduced to Boston's cultured audience by noted Abolitionists as "Our foster sister Moses."

Her courage and deeds of self-sacrifice should be a lasting inspiration to the youth of the race.

Harriet's proceedings and her peculiar methods of escape are not related in detail. Only one complete story of any length is presented.

The Story of Joe

A slave named Joe fell into the hands of a new master whose first order to him was to strip and take a whipping as a reminder to better behave himself. Joe, seeing no present help submitted to the lash, but thought to himself, "This is the first time--and the last!" That night he went to the cabin of Harriet's father and said, "Next time Moses comes let me know." In a few weeks Harriet came, then as usual men, women and children began to disappear from the plantations. Joe, his brother and two others went with the party. Hunting and hiding,--separated and brought together again by roundabout ways, passed on through the aid of secret friends they got at last opposite Wilmington, Delaware. The pursuers were hot

after them and large rewards offered for the arrest of each member of the party.

It was Harriet's method, we are told, to leave on a Saturday night, since no advertisements could be issued on Sunday, thus giving the fugitives a day's start of publicity. They found the bridge at Wilmington closely guarded by police officers on the lookout for them. It seemed impossible to cross in safety. But in that city lived Thomas Garrett a great lover of humanity through whose hands two thousand slaves are said to have passed on their way to liberty. His home was the North Star to many a fainting heart.

This century has grand scenes to show and boast of among its fellows. But few transcend that auction-block where the sheriff was selling all Garrett's goods for the crime (?) of giving a breakfast to a family of fugitive slaves. As the sale closed the officer turns to Garrett saying: "Thomas, I hope you'll never be caught at this again." "Friend," was the reply, "I haven't a dollar in the world, but if thee knows a fugitive who needs a breakfast, send him to me." Harriet had secret news sent to this good Quaker. He was equal to the emergency. He engaged two wagons and filled them with brick-layers, Irishmen and Germans. They drove over the bridge, shouting and singing as if for a frolic in the country. The guards let them pass and naturally expected to see them return. As night fell the merry party came back making as much noise as before and again passed without suspicion, but this time the runaways were concealed at the bottom of the wagons and soon hidden away in the home of Mr. Garrett. So far so good, but Joe could not feel at ease until he was safe in Canada.

As the train in which they were approached the suspension bridge below Niagara Falls, the rest of the excited party burst into singing even before they were out of danger, but Joe was too oppressed to join in their joy.

When the cars began to cross the bridge Harriet, anxious

to have her companions see the Falls, called eagerly for them to look at the wonderful sight, but still Joe sat with his head upon his hand.

"Joe, look at de Falls!" "Joe, you fool you--come see de Falls! It's your last chance." But Joe sat still and never raised his head. At length Harriet knew by the rise in the center of the bridge and the descent on the other side that they had crossed the line. She sprang across to Joe's seat, shook him with all her might and shouted, "Joe, you've shook de lion's paw." Joe did not know what she meant. "Joe, you are free."

Then the strong man who could stand under the master's whip without a groan, burst into a hysterical passion of weeping and singing, so that his fellow passengers thought he had gone crazy. But all rejoiced and gave him sympathy when they knew the cause of his emotions.

  --  A Life in Three Chapters   Table of Contents     HARRIET TUBMAN